Until last spring, Marc Engelman was a successful salesman for biotech giant Amgen Inc. His specialty: selling Enbrel, a powerful psoriasis treatment that costs nearly $20,000 a year, the Los Angeles Times reports.

The highly profitable medication is approved only for patients with serious forms of the skin disease and comes with side effects including an increased risk of severe infection and congestive heart failure.

But after five years at Amgen, Engelman says he left the company after failing to go along with aggressive and possibly improper marketing practices to boost Enbrel sales beyond its approved uses. The Laguna Niguel resident contends that the company required salespeople to gain access to patient medical information in doctors' offices and market the drug directly to patients, many of whom may not have needed the medication.

Another former employee, Elena Ferrante of New Jersey, says she was fired in 2005 for the same reason. Both are seeking damages in arbitration proceedings.

Amgen, based in Thousand Oaks, insists that its sales force plays by the rules. "Our sales creed emphasizes that Amgen sales representatives follow compliance guidelines with absolute consistency," spokesman David Polk said. As for the arbitration cases, he said, "the company does not comment on pending litigation or personnel matters."

Federal privacy laws strictly protect patient medical information. Allowing salespeople access to confidential patient information could violate those laws, experts say.

Doctors are allowed to prescribe a Food and Drug Administration-approved drug for any reason. But drug companies are barred from marketing drugs for uses beyond what's listed on its label, or so-called off-label uses.

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